Trouble Hiring High Performing Sales Executives?


On occassion, we really like articles written by others. Andy LaCivita is the Founder of milewalk and a friend of echogravity. We love his recent article on hiring high performing sales executives.

Having trouble hiring high performing sales executives? You’re not alone.

In milewalk’s nine-year history, we have never simultaneously had this many requests for executive sales resources. On one hand, it’s a wonderful sign the economy is growing again. Even so, a portion of these requests is from clients who are replenishing sales executives who were underperforming.

Regardless of your situation, it’s important to understand the best recruitment and interviewing techniques to help secure the right resources. It’s critical, however, that you’re honest with yourself that companies, in general, are handicapped when hiring these particular resources. In this post, I’ll share why that’s the case and some techniques you can use to improve your success rate.

Why is it so difficult to hire high performing sales executives?

The reason is simple—it’s so difficult because it’s a shade below impossible to simulate their future performance in your organization regardless of their past performance. This is true in the most extended interviewing processes, but a virtual certainty in condensed ones. This issue is further exacerbated because many sales people are articulate (even if not strong in critical reasoning) which masks their efficacy to an untrained interviewer.

What can you do to improve your success rate in hiring high performing sales executives?

They’re smart! They’re articulate! They look good! That’s what you see above the surface. You need to examine who they truly are. Simply because they’ve been successful elsewhere and have a wonderful network of business colleagues and friends doesn’t mean they’re your answer. Perhaps they were selling a household-named product. Perhaps they scored it big with a customer that blindly kept buying. Who knows?

To effectively assess them, you need to look at their history AND project their future. Most interviewers take a look at history in this manner, “Walk me through your most (or least) successful sale? Take me through it step by step so I can get an understanding of your sales techniques.”

This is helpful in some regard, but you’re turning control of the interview over to the candidates and also allowing them to explain something they’ve likely crafted to perfection. I suggest augmenting questions such as those with what I like to call “looking under the sales iceberg.”

Look under the iceberg. Thousands of evaluations have shown me there are eight or so major areas to evaluate (as a starting point) to ensure the sales person can actually sell. That means a-c-t-u-a-l-l-y sell. It doesn’t mean “who they know” or “how they sound” or “how they look.” While understanding these eight areas alone won’t provide the entire picture, it will provide significant evidence of their historical achievements as well as insight into how they likely perform.

  • Products & Services. What do they sell—is it a product, a service, or other?
  • Target Buyer & Companies. To whom do they sell—target buyers and target companies?
  • Techniques. How do they sell it—warm calls, cold calls, consultative selling, and/or transactional selling?
  • Lead Generation & Qualification. How do they identify and gather leads? Do they do their own research? Do they leverage marketing channels, campaigns, target lists, and so on?
  • Involvement. Understand their involvement in the sales process. Where do they start and finish in the process?
  • Follow Up & Tools. What follow up tools and techniques do they use? What sales training and methodologies do they use?
  • Quota Management, Achievement, & Distribution. Do they have a quota? What are their actual achievements against their target quota (for the last few years)? How was their revenue achieved (i.e., customer distribution, new customers, old customers, percentages for new and old, and so forth)?
  • Communication & Presence. How well do they communicate? How effective is their logic? Are they presentable? Do they listen well?

Simulate the future. Now that you have a sense of their history, it’s important to take a look at how they’ll likely perform in the future. My first suggestion would be to avoid the typical Critical Behavior Interview (CBI) questions as a method to assess past behavior as a predictor of future behavior. We’re not looking for future behaviors—we are looking for future results!

The best way to evaluate future results is to simulate the future that they are most likely to encounter in your environment. You know this best. After all, it’s your company. Why not put them in real live situations that you’re recently encountered and ask them what they would do? How would they handle this particular scenario? What would they say? How would they resolve the issue? How would they develop the strategy?

This might sound obvious, but most companies completely ignore the most predictive criteria in favor of what the candidate did in the past. The most effective interviewing processes, and therefore the ones that lead to the greatest long-term results, are those that look at three major facets of time—the candidate’s past (achievements), their present (current knowledge, skill base), and future (simulations of real-life situations they’re virtually certain to encounter).

In this post, we discussed evaluating a person’s selling capabilities. To ensure overall long-term employee success, there are other critical areas such as cultural fit and corporate alignment that must be addressed. If you’d like to learn more regarding those areas, review the article I prepared for Recruiting Trends called Optimize Your Hiring Practices to Predict Success. For more information on overall interviewing techniques, see the presentation and material I delivered to the Institute for Human Resources titled The Hiring Prophecies: Psychology Behind Recruiting Successful Employees.

Contact me directly to see if milewalk can assist in hiring high performing sales executives.